Steven Gaythorpe from a story by Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh
Northern Stage, Newcastle
FLOCK is inspired by Farid Attar's The Conference of The Birds, a classic poem from the North East of Iran about quest and discovery, community and family, society and leadership. That is its inspiration, not its story. The story, developed by director Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh and scripted by Steven Gaythorpe, is a modern Iranian fairytale, set in the early twentieth century, and focuses on the personal and political quests of a woman and her three children at a time when Iran, then known as Persia, was a political battlefield between Britain and Russia and its people were struggling for freedom under the oppressive régime of the Shah.
But the politics in FLOCK are filtered through the personal and expressed in fairytale form, using Iranian mythological characters: the Simorgh, a huge bird which purifies the land and water; the peri, a benevolent fairy; the derv, a death-bringing creature.
A woman, Zeba, played by Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh, is on a quest to find the Simorgh which only arises from the Caspian Sea at the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year, hoping it will help free Iran. On the way she finds and frees a caged peri, Omeed (Rosa Stourac McCreery) and the delay causes her to miss the flight of the Simorgh, but Omeed rewards her with a giant pomegranate from which she takes three seeds which grow into three children, the boy Farjad (Carl Kennedy), and the girls Shaheen (Christina Berriman Dawson) and Tannaz (Ruth Johnson).
Seven years later, and then seven years after that, she puts off returning to the Caspian as the children are too young. However, by their 21st birthdays she has died and so the three very different young people set off to fulfil her quest.
To give any more away would be a spoiler!
Zendeh uses an eclectic mix of performance styles to tell the story. There is direct addressing of the audience, aerial work, masks, music and song (including a community choir) by Mariam Rezaei, physical theatre which at times verges on dance, and, of course, dialogue.
This stylistic mixture removes the action from the realistic, shifting it into the world of the fairytale, inevitably concentrating on the personal, what is happening to the family, rather than the political. In fact, the politics are very much in the background and seem almost an irrelevance for most of the piece; it is only at the beginning, providing Zeba’s motivation for her quest, and at the end, that the political reality impinges directly on this family story.
FLOCK creates a world which is distant from us in time, in place and in its very texture. By lifting us out of the mundane—for these three children, in spite of their supernatural origins, are ordinary—it enables us to look at their lives and aspirations from a different perspective. The performances are well-judged, each character well developed and fitting into both perspectives, and the whole mise-en-scène subtle and supportive.